Interview with Keith Olsen 8/9/77

March 10th, 2020

Bob Weir, Keith Olsen, and Davd Gans

Photo by Ed Perlstein

Producer Keith Olsen has died.

Here is a partial transcript of the interview I did with him on August 9, 1977 at Sound City in Van Nuys CA, while he and Bob Weir were working on Heaven Help the Fool.

[Talking about interview with San Francisco Chronicle’s Joel Selvin, which took place just as KO returned from England with the Terrapin Station orchestrations.] I had just gotten back from England, and here I was with a whole bunch of stuff that the band had never heard: a 58-page score of strings and horns and a 32-voice choir…

The Grateful Dead were overwhelmed: “Oh my god, we’ve lost the band.” I [had done] a mix at Abbey Road… wanting to hear every note that everybody played. The strings and the horns were excruciatingly loud in the mix compared to where they should be. They’d never heard a string mix before… It’s quite a shock, especially when you have no idea what this short weirdo from Los Angeles, California is going to do to your song. All I could do with Jerry was sing him a bunch of parts that I heard, and say, “This is what I’m going to be writing with Paul Buckmaster.” Then you get over there, and Paul Buckmaster being Paul Buckmaster – what a mind!

Those lines are very much Jerry’s melody lines. The woodwinds and reeds are just a counterpoint to it. When he first heard it, we didn’t have the melody yet; the melody was his guitar, and we just had the strings. I said, “Don’t worry.”

We learned a lot in section rehearsals up at Front Street. They were learning a song, but something seemed weird about it. When everybody went off to get a bite to eat, I asked the drummers and Phil to come back. I sez “Okay, let’s run down the tune.”

“What? No guitars? No voices?”

“Sure. You all know where you are.” All of a sudden they had to start thinking… Billy’s going [whispers] “Mickey, how many bars til the bridge?”

I said, “Don’t worry about it – don’t count the bars – it’s got to be a unit.” In the section rehearsal, it just clicked. Without anything else happening in the room, Phil was the instrument that had to play the chord changes.

Phil is a very inventive bass player, and he’s also a super-intelligent person. Duty called! “My god, it’s me! I’m now the rhythm guitar player; I’m holding down the bottom of this tune; I’m also setting any internal rhythm of this tune – any focus on where the chord change is going is all focused on me” – and it clicked. He just fell right into it. To switch into a focused space, he was the easiest one of all. It was amazing.

It allows Weir to do a more inventive rhythm guitar part, where he doesn’t have to be down there at the bottom coppin’ the bass note, the low E string all the time, to make sure there’s a good fundamental; the fundamental’s there, or it’s passed through in a passing tone, always leading to what the next chord is, without any doubt in the listener’s ear. Phil got right into it, and Bob just said, “Great! Here I go.”

Working with two drummers took a long time at first. Being able to translate from live performance, when you can get away with a lot, to the studio – and these little extensions of our ears called microphones, that are a quarter of an inch off a snare drum, quarter of an inch off each bass drum head. Here you have two snare drums, two bass drums, eight tom-toms, 15 cymbals. That’s a pretty giant set! Where is the beat? The feel was inconsistent, depending on who hit first and hardest. I’m talking about milliseconds. The difference of feel between an upbeat and a backbeat… When you have a drummer that is naturally on the back side of the beat, and one on top of the beat… That’s the two colors of the drummers. Something’s got to give. You have to pick the person who’s right for the feel of the tune – which drummer’s doing to be the most solid, have that drummer be the pulse and let the other drummer be the color. That’s really the stuff that Mickey does the best: the color. I used Billy for snare drum and bass drum and pulse, pretty much on the entire album,.

On preparing to work with the Grateful Dead

I remembered what they sounded like when I heard them play live once, several years ago, and they blew me away they were so good. I always wondered why they couldn’t get that on record.

I listened through Blues for Allah once, and I think I gave it away to a friend. It wasn’t very well done, I told them. It seemed like they rushed through it, and then I found out afterwards that they spent five months recording that album.

Five months, really? Then Garcia said, “Let me rephrase that: we spent four and a half months trying to figure out what we should do first, and then the last two weeks recording.” Garcia’a so great. [laughs]

Production by committee is really hard; record-making by committee is really hard. It can work, but the instances of it working are very few and far between.

I’m really pleased with [Terrapin Station]. There were some trying moments, when we really had to grind away to figure out if what we were doing was right. It was a fine line. I didn’t want to dictate to the Dead, ’cause I would destroy a rapport. I didn’t want to let them dictate to me what was going to on the record. I wanted every performance to come out of them, but be open to ideas like… Tom Scott doing a solo on “Estimated Prophet.”

Jerry had never really done any harmony solos, and he got off doin’ ’em. “This is fun!” And he knows his electronics so well. He paid a bunch of money for that Slave Driver 360, which is a function generator that gave us that [sings line from the end of “Lady with a Fan”]. He had it sitting in here for three hours, idling, with signs that said, “Do not touch!” To let it get stable. That thing was crazy: when you play a note, you trigger a bunch of little ICs that say, “He’s playing an E and he’s wiggling it, so I’m going to give a control voltage to the oscillator in something down the line, and I will tell it to play an E and wiggle it.” It’s a most amazing piece of gear; it’s a frequency-to-voltage converter.

[discussion of Les Paul technique of playing a solo over the tape at half speed, used in “Terrapin Flyer”]

“Terrapin Transit” is there to destroy any thought you had about constant tempo – even though it was written and conducted in exactly the same tempo as the tune that preceded it. The violins were on, I think, an 8-beat cycle, the violas on a 7-beat cycle, the cellos in 6, and the second violins in 5… You can click your fingers right through that whole thing.

Weir is an accomplished rhythm guitar player. It’s an art that has been forgotten by too many people in this industry. Rhythm guitar is hard to play! It’s an integral part of making music….

Making the Grateful Dead accessible to people throughout the country in different walks of life and different musical tastes… Garcia has been such an underrated guitarist – he’s so melodic, and the ease of playing… I’ve seen that for years in the band, and I’ve just always wished that band could make a record that I could enjoy.

Grateful Dead Hour no. 1642

March 8th, 2020

Week of March 9, 2020

Part 1 30:43
Grateful Dead 9/11/88 Spectrum, Philadelphia PA
THROWING STONES->
NOT FADE AWAY
~
NOT FADE AWAY
IT’S ALL OVER NOW, BABY BLUE

Part 2 25:02
Bob Weir & Wolf Bros 2/15/20 Sweetwater, Mill Valley CA
THE MUSIC NEVER STOPPED->
EASY ANSWERS->
THE MUSIC NEVER STOPPED
w/ Jeff Chimenti
Bob Weir, Heaven Help the Fool (Rhino)
SALT LAKE CITY

The Grateful Dead played “Salt Lake City” exactly once, in Salt Lake City in February of 1995. I would love to have heard it more often.

Bob Weir and Wolf Bros are on tour, and the shows are being streamed live by nugs.net – and they also offer the recordings after the fact in a variety of formats. Info on tour dates can be found at bobweir.net.

Support for the Grateful Dead Hour comes this week from The Capitol Theatre and Garcia’s in Port Chester, New York. The Disco Biscuits, known for their psychedelic jamming and out-of-this-world musical experimentation head to The Cap on March 26, 27, and 28. Dark Star Orchestra recreates the Grateful Dead Experience at The Cap on May 8 and 9. Every Wednesday is Grateful Dead night at Garcia’s, where they’re also doing Music Movie Mondays. It’ll be Gimme Shelter on April 6. Events, information, and ticketing at thecapitoltheatre.com

Grateful Dead Hour no. 1641

March 1st, 2020

Week of March 2, 2020

Part 1 32:23
Grateful Dead 9/11/88 Spectrum, Philadelphia PA
DRUMS->
SPACE->
THE WHEEL->
STELLA BLUE

Part 2 23:14
Bob Weir & Wolf Bros 2/13/20 Sweetwater, Mill Valley CA
BIG RIVER
Bob Weir & Wolf Bros 2/14/20 Sweetwater, Mill Valley CA
THE OTHER ONE

When saying the name of this band, “bros” rhymes with “rose,” not with “mothers” – or so I’ve been told! Bob Weir & Wolf Bros are on the road all through March. You can see the details at bobweir.net. The trio warmed up with a week-long run at Sweetwater in Mill Valley, and I’ll be sharing some treats from those gigs over the next few weeks.

Wolf Bros live recordings are available from nugs.net. Here’s a direct link to the 2/13 recording.

Support for the Grateful Dead Hour comes this week from:

Dead and Company – Bob Weir, Bill Kreutzmann, Mickey Hart, John Mayer, Jeff Chimenti and Oteil Burbridge – on tour from July 10 through August 8. Complete details, tickets, and travel packages at deadandcompany.com. That’s Dead and Company, on tour July 10 through August 8.

The Capitol Theatre and Garcia’s in Port Chester, New York. For all movie buffs and music lovers: Garcia’s at The Cap presents Music Movie Mondays, where you can kick back with popcorn and a cold one and watch iconic rock movies in concert sound! On March 9 it’ll be Who’s The Kids Are Alright, and The Rolling Stones’ Gimme Shelter on Monday, Apr 6. The Disco Biscuits hit The Cap on March 26, 27, and 28, and DSO May 8 and 9. And every Wednesday is Grateful Dead night at Garcia’s. Events, information, and ticketing at thecapitoltheatre.com

Grateful Dead Hour no. 1640

February 23rd, 2020

Week of February 24, 2020

Part 1 35:43
Grateful Dead 9/11/88 Spectrum, Philadelphia PA
FOOLISH HEART->
VICTIM OR THE CRIME->
SCARLET BEGONIAS->
FIRE ON THE MOUNTAIN

Part 2 20:02
Bob Weir & Wolf Bros 2/10/20 Sweetwater, Mill Valley CA
A HARD RAIN’S A-GONNA FALL
Jerry Garcia & Merl Saunders, GarciaLive vol 12 (Round Records)
HOW SWEET IT IS (TO BE LOVED BY YOU)

Support for the Grateful Dead Hour comes this week from:

The Capitol Theatre and Garcia’s in Port Chester, New York. Melvin Seals and JGB, with new permanent member John Kadlecik, play the sweet sounds of JGB on Saturday, March 7. Pigeons Playing Ping Pong come to The Cap on April 24 and 25 to put the fun in Funk, with Goose on Friday and Magic Beans on Saturday. Dark Star Orchestra recreates the Grateful Dead Experience at The Cap on May 8 and 9. And don’t of course DeadCenter at Garcia’s every Wednesday night. Events, information, and ticketing at thecapitoltheatre.com

Dead and Company – Bob Weir, Bill Kreutzmann, Mickey Hart, John Mayer, Jeff Chimenti and Oteil Burbridge – on tour from July 10 through August 8. Complete details, tickets, and travel packages at deadandcompany.com.

Grateful Dead Hour no. 1639

February 16th, 2020

Week of February 17, 2020

Part 1 31:43
Grateful Dead 9/11/88 Spectrum, Philadelphia PA
FENNARIO
STUCK INSIDE OF MOBILE WITH THE MEMPHIS BLUES AGAIN
TENNESSEE JED->
PROMISED LAND

Part 2 23:35
Fragile Thunder, One Afternoon Long Ago (Perfectible)
ST STEPHEN
Wynonna (single) (Anti Records)
RAMBLE ON ROSE (with Bob Weir)

The legendary country singer Wynonna went into the studio with Bob Weir to record “Ramble on Rose”! They just released it as a single on Anti Records, and Bobby joined Wynonna and The Big Noise onstage in San Francisco a few days ago!

As you probably know, I’m a musician as well as an author and radio producer. I’ve been writing my own songs for 50 years and playing Grateful Dead music for almost as long. One of the projects I’ve been involved with for the last few years is Fragile Thunder, a trio with Celtic harpist Anela Lauren and Hawaiian slack-key guitarist Stephen Inglis. Fragile Thunder has been invited to perform at the Lockn’ Festival in Virginia in June, as well as the Just Exactly Perfect Festival in California in September. I’m using that as an excuse to play a track from our studio record, One Afternoon Long Ago, which we released last spring on my own label, Perfectible Recordings. We brought in the great Robin Sylvester, bassist of Ratdog, for the session.

The Grateful Dead Hour is made possible in part this week by:

Dead and Company – Bob Weir, Bill Kreutzmann, Mickey Hart, John Mayer, Jeff Chimenti and Oteil Burbridge – on tour from July 10 through August 8. Complete details, tickets, and travel packages at deadandcompany.com. That’s Dead and Company, on tour all through July 10 through August 8.

The Capitol Theatre and Garcia’s in Port Chester, New York. Melvin Seals and JGB play the sweet sounds of JGB on Saturday, March 7, with their new permanent guitarist, John Kadlecik. Pigeons Playing Ping Pong come to The Cap on April 24 with Goose and April 25 with Magic Beans. Dark Star Orchestra recreates the Grateful Dead Experience at The Cap on May 8 and 9. And Wednesdays is DeadCenter, Grateful Dead night at Garcia’s. Events, information, and ticketing at thecapitoltheatre.com

KPFA/Stu Steinhardt campaign update

February 13th, 2020

As of this morning, we have raised $11,104 – blasting past our goal of $10,000!

Here’s the story, and you can of course still contribute!

The marathon happens on Saturday, 9am-1am Pacific!

KPFA Grateful Dead marathon Feb 15, 2020

February 11th, 2020

The annual KPFA Grateful Dead fund-raising marathon
Saturday, February 15, 2020, 9am to 1am pacific time
Hosts: Tim Lynch and David Gans

Rare recordings, interviews, and a live performance by Achilles Wheel Trio

Broadcast live all over northern California on KPFA (94.1 Berkeley CA, 97.5 FM Santa Cruz CA) and KFCF 88.1 Fresno CA
Streaming live at kpfa.org, nugs.net, and gdradio.net

More info – and a link to the playlist – here!

Grateful Dead Hour no. 1638

February 9th, 2020

Week of February 10, 2020

Part 1 19:29
Bob Weir & Wolf Bros 8/2/19 Sweetwater, Mill Valley CA
ETERNITY
Jerry Garcia & David Grisman, So What (Acoustic Disc)
MILESTONES (take 5, 6/2/92)

Part 2 36:03
Grateful Dead 9/11/88 Spectrum, Philadelphia PA
IKO IKO
FEEL LIKE A STRANGER->
FRANKLIN’S TOWER
LITTLE RED ROOSTER

Since Dead & Company has performed the Miles Davis classic “Milestones” a number of times, I thought it would be interesting to hear how Jerry Garcia and David Grisman treated it. There are two takes of this piece on an album of jazz numbers titled So What, released in 1998 on Grisman’s Acoustic Disc label.

The Garcia-Grisman quartet included James Kerwin on bass and the great Joe Craven on various instruments. In the last few years you’ve heard a lot from Joe on this program: he and his band The Sometimers made one of my favorite records of the last ten years: Garcia Songbook. You can find them at joecravenansdthesometimers.com


Bob Weir & Wolf Bros are going on tour this month and next. Info at bobweir.net

Support for the Grateful Dead Hour comes this week from The Capitol Theatre and Garcia’s in Port Chester, New York. Blackbird Presents and The Capitol Theatre Present The Thrill Is Gone: A Tribute To B.B. King on February 16 and 17, with Buddy Guy, Derek Trucks, Ann Wilson, Susan Tedeschi, Warren Haynes, and many more. Colorado blues-rockers Big Head Todd and The Monsters play with 10,000 Maniacs on Friday, February 28. And every Wednesday is DeadCenter, Grateful Dead night at Garcia’s. Events, information, and ticketing at thecapitoltheatre.com

Dino English on the Grateful Dead’s drummers

February 8th, 2020

Last week on Tales from the Golden Road we had a caller asking about drumming – a topic about which this guitarist isn’t nearly as well-informed as I’d like. Later in the program we got a call from Dino English, one of Dark Star Orchestra‘s drummers, adding lots of useful information to the topic. And this week, Dino sent me some more info by email to share with the world.

Here’s Dino:

David,

Just to continue the drum discussion… listening to Betty Board of 10-2-77 off archive…

So this Betty board has Billy snare, kick and toms mostly on left while Mickey snare and toms Mostly on right. Betty [Cantor-Jackson], as well as Dan [Healy], would place stuff as if you were looking at the stage for the most part except Jerry and Bass generally up middle with keys on one side and Bob guitar on the opposite. In this case the keys are hard left, Bob fairly hard right.

First song, Casey Jones, if you put the phones on, you can clearly hear both drummers hitting the back beat at the same time. Both of them hitting the backbeat at the same time happened quite a bit … especially in the 70’s before Mickey started going more world beatish in the 80’s where he would hit a back beat on the toms more. He did do it in the 70’s as well but it was especially prominent after Mickey moved his big Tom to left and right above his snare is the later 80’s

On Jack Straw on this recording you can hear Mickey play backbeats on the toms as well and some snare back beats here and there.

Brown Eyed, on this recording, you have them both hitting back beats on snare.

Even though they are playing similar parts, it still adds to the over depth of the texture.

And of course in general, Mickey was the primary tom fill guy, while Billy driving the groove. Quite often they would trade up who is on hi hats and the other would play ride. But there was certainly times when they both played hi hat or ride at the same time.

They would sometimes fill at the same time as well with a similar rhythm (such as 16th note theme) or quite often Mickey would start and Billy would finish.

But yes, it was all in the purpose of serving whatever song it was they were currently playing. And giving each other space. They were clearly playing together rather than what quite often happens when you get two drummers together where one or both of the them wants to turn it into a drum battle while shitting all over the music.

*

And I should also throw in that on occasion, the channels accidentally got switched by the tapers if they got a board feed and mixed up right and left inputs. Then you’d have Billy on the right and Mickey on the left. But that’s clearly a mistake, as you can hear it if you dial into the same show with an audience recording where the right and left is clear.

And also you can tell it’s wrong by just knowing how they mixed. Both Dan and Betty have told me they mix as if looking at the stage. They both have their differences of how extreme things are panned. Dan tended to go extreme hard left and right with snare kick and hats and the overheads would work as a unifier of sorts with Billy’s right overhead and Mickeys left overhead being almost center (from the perspective of looking at the stage).  … while Betty would not quite pan the snare that extreme. 

I’ve tried to point this out to Charlie Miller at times (with varying results).

On a side note, Dan would make some exceptions. He would hard pan Mickey’s floor toms hard right when if looking at the stage they would be center. He said he did this because the floor toms took up too much sonic space.  

One thing that often seems to be true as well with all this stuff… there are always exceptions to the case. These are all things that developed over time and as with the music, very rarely would things stay the same. 

(added later)
I should mention the cowbell since it can be a pretty predominant part. On many tunes Mickey would often play the cowbell and toms as a textual thing while Billy held down the beat with a kick, snare, hi hat thing. That would be a classic example of them playing very different parts. Examples of this would be Let It Grow or Scarlet > Fire. 

KPFA Grateful Dead Marathon Sat 2/15/20

February 8th, 2020

Read all about it here.

art by Darrin Brenner

Honoring Stu at KPFA: update

February 4th, 2020

Our campaign to raise $10,000 for KPFA in Stu Steinhardt’s name is coming along nicely. As of this afternoon, our total is $7,490.00!

Please add your contribution. Any amount is appreciated! Here’s a link to the story.

You can make a check payable to KPFA and send it to me –

David Gans
484 Lake Park Ave #102
Oakland CA 94610-2730

Or you can contribute via PayPal to david@trufun.com – make sure you mark it FRIENDS AND FAMILY so we don’t have to pay a fee – and include a note stating that it is a contribution to Stuart’s memorial fund.

We’re gonna “pay it forward” and give KPFA several years’ worth of the donations that Stu is no longer able to make. Nothing will replace the hours he gave to the station, nor the PIE he so generously baked for our music jocks. But this plaque will keep his memory alive at the station forever.

And please tune in for the KPFA Grateful Dead Marathon on Saturday, February 15, 9am to 1am pacific time.

Honoring Stu: current total!

February 2nd, 2020

As of this morning, we have raised $6,205.00 toward our goal of $10,000. Here is the original post with all the info! Please read it, and please contribute!

Grateful Dead Hour no. 1637

February 2nd, 2020

Week of February 3, 2020

Part 1 42:12
Grateful Dead 2/27/90 Oakland Coliseum Arena
SPACE->
THE OTHER ONE->
MORNING DEW->
THROWING STONES->
NOT FADE AWAY

Part 2 13:48
Grateful Dead 2/27/90 Oakland Coliseum Arena
I BID YOU GOODNIGHT
Grateful Dead, Ready or Not (Rhino)
SO MANY ROADS (6/23/92)

“So Many Roads” is one of the last batch of songs Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter wrote together. This one was an onstage emotional peak for Jerry in the last few years of his life, and archivist and producer David Lemieux chose a sterling example for this collection of songs that the Dead weren’t able to get onto a studio album before the end. Ready or Not also includes Liberty, Eternity, Lazy River Road, Samba in the Rain, Way to Go Home, Corrina, Easy Answers, and Days Between. It’s available in all the usual places.

Support for the Grateful Dead Hour comes this week from The Capitol Theatre and Garcia’s in Port Chester, New York. Bluegrass and jam rockers Railroad Earth come to The Cap on Saturday, February 8 with special guest Peter Rowan, performing Old & In the Way with support from the Larry Keel Experience. Blackbird Presents and The Capitol Theatre Present The Thrill Is Gone: A Tribute To B.B. King on February 16 and 17, with Buddy Guy, Derek Trucks, Ann Wilson, Susan Tedeschi, Warren Haynes, and many more. And every Wednesday is Grateful Dead night at Garcia’s. Events, information, and ticketing at thecapitoltheatre.com

Honoring Stu: update

January 30th, 2020

This is a repost of the original announcement. Our total to date is $5,419. Keep the contributions coming, please!

Also: We’re auctioning a painting by my wife, Rita Hurault. Take a look and place your bid!

Everybody should have a friend who brings you pie.

Stuart Steinhardt was that friend, to many of us. He loved to bake, and he was wise enough not to consume his entire output – so he SHARED.

Among the beneficiaries of his sweet largesse were the hosts of Stu’s favorite music programs on KPFA, Berkeley’s pioneering listener-sponsored free speech radio station. He brought pies to many of us on countless occasions.

In addition to copious carbs, Stuart also gave generously to KPFA in both time and cash. I co-host a 16-hour Grateful Dead fund-raiser every winter, and Stu was a godsend on that day, year after year. He’d hang out for all or most of the day and night, helping out by answering phones, picking up food, etc. And he invariably wrote a check before leaving the building.

A group of us who were the beneficiaries of Stu’s kindness have come up with a plan to honor his memory at the station: we’d like to raise $10,000 by February 15, the day of the 2020 KPFA Grateful Dead marathon. KPFA has agreed to put up a plaque over the door of the phone room, honoring our dear friend’s lifetime of support.

To that end, we’d like to ask you to contribute. You can make a check payable to KPFA and send it to me –

David Gans
484 Lake Park Ave #102
Oakland CA 94610-2730

Or you can contribute via PayPal to david@trufun.com – make sure you mark it FRIENDS AND FAMILY so we don’t have to pay a fee – and include a note stating that it is a contribution to Stuart’s memorial fund.

We’re gonna “pay it forward” and give KPFA several years’ worth of the donations that Stu is no longer able to make. Nothing will replace the hours he gave to the station, nor the PIE he so generously baked for our music jocks. But this plaque will keep his memory alive at the station forever.

NOTE FROM SANDY SONNENFELT:

Stuart and I had a love of radio in common. He was a fervent supporter of public radio and especially of KPFA. I am deeply moved that a group of his favorite volunteer music jocks have arranged to name the phone room after him.

KPFA depends on our donations to survive as one of the very few truly independent listener- supported radio stations. In honor of Stuart, I hope you will join us in donating to the station. No amount is too small. Thanks in advance for your generosity.

P.S. Stuart is wearing KPFA Marathon t-shirts in both of these photos!

Honoring Stu: update

January 26th, 2020

We’re hoping to raise $10,000 or more for KPFA in Stu Steinhardt’s honor (see the original post for all the details). As of this morning we have collected $3396.

Please read the original post and make a contribution if you can. It’s tax-deductible!

Here’s a photo from May 2004 in Utah. (left to right) Rita, Sandy, Stu, Pam, and Bob